Between a rock and a hard place: integration or independence of humanitarian action?

This article looks at the tension between principles and politics in the response to the Afghan crisis, and more specifically at the extent to which humanitarian agencies have been able to protect themselves and their activities from overt instrumentalization by those pursuing partisan political agendas. After a short historical introduction, it focuses on the tensions around the issue of 'coherence' – the code word for the integration of humanitarian action into the wider political designs of the United Nations itself and of the UN-mandated military coalition that has been operating in Afghanistan since late 2001. The article ends with some more general conclusions on the humanitarian–political relationship and what Afghanistan 'means' for the future of humanitarian action.

About the author

Antonio Donini
Senior Researcher, Feinstein International Center, Tufts University

Antonio Donini is a Senior Researcher at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, where he works on issues relating to humanitarianism and the future of humanitarian action. In 2004, he co-edited the volume Nation-Building Unraveled? Aid, Peace, and Justice in Afghanistan (Kumarian Press). He has recently published an edited volume on the politicisation and manipulation of humanitarian action: The Golden Fleece: Manipulation and Independence in Humanitarian Action (Kumarian Press, 2012).